FIVE STAR review of ANGELS OF MERCY – VOLUME 2: MARCO.
Thanks to Paul Gay Berry from GayMediaReviews for the lovely words and the opportunity to share it with the readership out there! #Humbled #DoingTheHappyDance !!
BIG GIVEAWAY WITH THIS ONE – There’s an opportunity to win the entire series (all 6 books when completed) and a $25 Amazon GC! GO check it out!
BOOK RELEASE – Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco
(The Fall of the Sforzas)
I know it’s been a helluva long time since I’ve posted. It hasn’t been for not wanting to. I’ve had LOTS to say on stuff. Some of which I did on other blogs or via the podcast. But I’ve also been massively busy trying to get the next book in my series out the door. Well, it’s done. And he’s a WHOPPER of a tale!
Clocking in at just over 265K words (approx 741 pages), it is finally put to rest and is out in the universe now. I always knew Marco’s part of the tale was going to be this big. There were no two ways about it (as he’d say).
For those who haven’t been following along, suffice to say this series is a set of character studies that deep dive into the mindsets of three men’s lives over the course of a violent hate crime born out of homophobia that is still rampant within competitive sports (in this case, the fictional high school varsity football team – The Mercy High Avenging Angels).
The first volume dealt with two boys who during the summer between their junior and senior high school years come together. Two boys who couldn’t be more opposite if they tried. The first volume is told from the shy, and sticking to the shadows, Elliot Donahey. An artsy geeky boy consumed with doing everything he can not to be noticed in a world that keeps saying to him that he doesn’t belong. Only his plans for obscurity in his senior year are completely blown off the rails by the highest profile jock on campus, Mercy High’s star quarterback, Marco Sforza. Elliot’s take brings the reader along on their burgeoning heady romance filled with all the drama a coupling like that can bring. They just do everything they can to remain rooted in one another, holding each other close and whispering how their love will last through the ages. This, despite how many people are circling around them at school that are hell bent on keeping them apart.
Volume Two picks up where the climatic cliff hanger of volume one leaves off.
Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco, picks up the same day as the climax of Volume One, only told from Marco Sforza’s (Elliot’s boyfriend) point of view. This is a character study series where each man in the tale takes the reader on an introspective journey of coming to grips with the horrors of homophobia in competitive sports and the consequences when those scenarios become violent. Part two of a three part series.
“Elliot Donahey is the love of my life.”
Those words become a lightning rod for Marco Sforza, the man who seemed to have it all – looks, intelligence, charm, money, a certain degree of local fame as the star quarterback of Mercy High. But when his teammates beat his boyfriend to the brink of death, Marco will have to learn what “standing by your man” truly means.
How will these boys cope with Elliot’s recuperation as well as find a way to bring justice for the heinous crime committed against him? Deception, lies and intrigue begin to thread their way into the boys’ lives as they struggle to just hold onto one another. All is not quite what it seems as we reach yet another climatic ending that will turn their whole world upside-down. The hate crime Elliot suffered was just the beginning of their woes. Is Marco and Elliot’s love for one another strong enough to see them through?
Read Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco to find out.
Available now from the following locations:
The SA COLLINS ESTORE – where you can even buy a PERSONALIZED autograph ebook edition (sample graphic available from the e-store site)
Please check out them out!
Also, a BIG thanks to my musical muses for Angels – Jay Brannan, Steve Grand and Adam Ray! These amazing musicians are worth seeking out. I am so happy that they give me the added inspiration as I write these massive books of the series!
Until next time (which I promise won’t be so far off) – Baz
Those moments …
“There are moments you remember all your life. There are moments you wait for and dream of all your life. This is one of those moments…”
While that line is from a song in Yentl, it covers what’s been going on lately for me. I know it’s been a while since I’ve been in the blog chair. It’s something I find that I can’t do – just blog for the sake of blogging. I have to want to say something. This one took me a while to gestate and finally take shape.
Thinking back on it though, I don’t think it was because I didn’t know what I wanted to say. But because it was about those moments that are sort of milestones in your life (that sometimes come and go so quickly you scarce sense that they have any real meaning until you reflect upon them much later). I think that I knew I was going to write about them but it seemed the universe wanted me to wait a bit. It seemed that it had moments for me that I needed to observe. Things I needed to take stock of that were milestone moments. To quite simply not be in such a rush to produce.
As a writer, I am purely an artist. I don’t give a damn about whether my story is at the top of the best seller list. I wouldn’t mind it, but it’s not requisite. I’ll publish regardless. At some point I watched as my author friends publish with established boutique houses and think wow. Not because I begrudged them their success at getting a story sold. I am quite happy for them. But it was a moment where I realized I can’t compromise my voice. The stories I write must be what they are. If it means a real slow burn to find readers, well, so be it. I will persevere and write what I want to write. Uncompromising in tone and measure. No punches pulled, as they say. Well, as I say, really.
So yeah, moments.
And some may not have to do with my writing at all. I had one such moment with my granddaughter a week ago.
It was a random movie night at home. Just the grandpa’s and her. Mom was out on a date. What did the granddaughter choose? Some mindless chick flick? Some bombastic super hero or sci fi romp? No.
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That was her choice. And I couldn’t have been more proud or pleased with her. So was my husband. So we sat and watched it. It was one of those moments where I watched her as much as I watched the movie. I watched the idyllic world she had as a child fall away as she realized the horrors that people can put upon one another. In a very real way, it was a sad moment. The veil was lifted. She saw the worst in humanity (well, the worst she’s witnessed so far).
It was a moment.
Loss of childhood innocence. A reckoning that had been long in coming, when you realize for the first time the world is not the safe place you thought it was as a child.
Definitely a moment. And she chose it.
The next moment? Another movie (sensing a theme here?):
To Russia With Love.
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No, not the James Bond flick of old – that’s FROM Russia With Love.
In this amazing documentary (produced by out athlete, Johnny Weir – amongst others) we encounter Vladislav Slavskiy. His story is emblematic of what our queer Russian brothers and sisters are suffering in that country. His story broke my heart. It also gave me hope. It was a revelatory moment. Why? Because I’ve always wanted to do something for them back in Russia, but my fear was that any communication from the west might make things worse for them. But Vlad’s story does have a happy ending – probably unique when it comes to our queer Russian brothers and sisters. Why was this a “moment”?
Well, because I became Facebook friends with him. I asked and he accepted. I was overjoyed at the prospect of interacting with him. I made a connection. It was just before his birthday. On that day I wished him a happy birthday and thanked him for being my new friend. He liked the post. It was a small accomplishment, but I was happy.
So about a week ago, I finally worked up the courage to ask him if he would come onto the podcast to tell his story to our listeners. Amazingly, he said yes.
A DEFINITE MOMENT. A MILESTONE. One that said loudly – Don’t fuck this up, Baz! This is a gift.
So we record that special ep tomorrow. For the first time in my life, I am nervous. I’ve performed in front of thousands on the stage and not batted an eye or had so much as one simple butterfly roaming around in my stomach. But speaking with Vlad; trying to relate his story? Yeah, I got a whole bag full of butterflies going on in there.
I want to get this right for so many reasons. None the least of which, that my granddaughter watched the movie with me and is just as excited about my talking to Vlad as I am. So yeah, young ears are listening to what I am about to do. Definite responsibility. She’s listening. She’s watching grandpa step into a very important place to help someone tell their story. And she’s a questioning queer youth – so it’s doubly important that I get it right.
When I met my very first fan (beyond my family, that is) – Michael Rumsey. You brilliant and loyal man, you!
Like the moment I met Jayne Lockwood and Vance Bastian. Two people I love immensely and can’t get enough of. They’re like a drug I don’t ever want an intervention for. They were definite moments. Milestones. The podcast is a testament to that.
Like the moment last Friday when I got to circle back with Jay Brannan at his concert here in San Francisco and thank him personally for allowing me to quote his works in my book – Angels of Mercy (I am still reeling over that generosity). He remembered the book when I spoke to him after the concert. He was so generous with his time and his attentions about my works. But that’s Jay. He gets the self-promotion – even when I know all he wants to do is go to sleep and rest. But it was a moment of accomplishment that I could provide him with a copy of the finished work. Another moment. One I’ll cherish.
I plan to get back into the blogging chair more. It’s been a while. I need to do this. Not everyday. I don’t want to ramble on about stuff that really doesn’t have much meaning. I’d rather do it when it counts.
Until next time …
Angels of Mercy – Volume One: Elliot
(His Summer of Love)
is NOW available!
(Already labelled a BEST-SELLER in pre-sales!)
My first serious work that began over a year ago and I can’t believe it’s release is finally here!
You can find it at the following locations for purchase:
AllRomance/OmniLit (Best Seller Status)
From the cover of the book –
On the cusp of his senior year at Mercy High, Elliot Donahey, an out but terminally shy gay young man who keeps to the shadows – never wanting to be seen or noticed – suddenly finds himself in the arms of the highest profile jock on campus, local star quarterback, Marco Sforza. Their lives, and those closest to them will never be the same.
Set against the backdrop of competitive sports, this character study work deep dives into the lives of these young men who each must “play the game” so Marco can continue to play the game he loves. They are just trying to find some small slice of happiness to call their own amidst their hellish final year of high school.
Author’s Note: Angels of Mercy is first and foremost, a character study. A great deal of it is inner-monologue. Elliot will pause the action, will break momentum as he grapples with his world – all the while flipping a finger to the fourth wall. He knows you’re there. It was far more important to me as its author (and a gay man) that the reader come away with the whys of Elliot’s choices in how he navigates his often tumultuous world. The same can be said of Marco (his jock boyfriend) who will pick up the tale with Volume Two (due summer of 2015).
I’ve read much queer literature and what I find rather interesting is that for the majority of it, very little is written about the character’s headspace. When you live in a world where you constantly have to be vigilant as you navigate through, it can make for some very powerful storytelling. That is my goal in writing these boys’ lives. I want the reader who may not be queer themselves to come away with what it might be like to be in a gayboy’s shoes – constantly polling and pulse-checking your world because your very survival depends upon it. All of that while you hope, you secretly pray, that you’ll find someone who will see you too and find they can’t live without you in their world. A small slice of happiness to call your own. And though you do everything to keep to yourself, you may still run into those who find your very existence threatens who they are and how they think the world should run. I pull no punches with this work. They are hormonally charged eighteen year old young men who are sexually active. While the sex is present in the work it is not gratuitous in that the main character does evolve from his physical intimacy with his high-profile boyfriend. It is not a genre romance read either, though it has a very strong romance threaded in the work. These elements bring a light to their world that attracts all the wrong attention.
In a time where more queer youth are coming out to their teammates and their loved ones, I find that work of this nature is both timely and necessary to tell. I hope you’ll find it as interesting and provocative a read as I believe it is.
A BIG THANK YOU to Jay Brannan who was my musical muse for the project. Rob Me Blind is such a truly brilliant album and I couldn’t have my boys as deeply and emotively rooted were it not for this musical inspiration that came from the brilliant and talented bard of Jay Brannan. Please do search him out on the web and on iTunes. You will NOT be sorry you did!
A Boy and His Wings – To and Fro …
An Album Review for a Modern Day Bard – Adam Ray
Before I begin, I want to tell you a story – it’s what I do.
You see, I get caught up with other artists. Having lived my life trotting the boards of the stage myself as a singer and actor, I have been enamored with those who see life through an artist’s eyes. To hear or see their interpretation of things is truly magical. And I am not one of those “it has to be about me or nothing” types. I so hate those divas. It only shows the pettiness and the inner-frailty of what they do. Like the bullies in high school, they carry bravado like armor and will bash anyone who isn’t as great as they see themselves. No, I’m not one of those.
But I’ve been around enough of them to know it when I see it.
Having done this for almost the entire half-centennial time I’ve occupied space on the planet, I’ve had the pleasure to work with some truly amazing people. Some were the biggest names in the biz, others not so much though their talents certainly warranted a greater audience. I am the type of performer that actually cheers others on because I know what they do doesn’t take anything away from me. I’ve learned that by watching others who can’t handle it. So instead I love to champion my fellow artists (especially if they’re queer) because the life of an artist, regardless of medium, isn’t an easy one. And those who carry true genius in their craft often come with inner demons and frailties that they work very hard to mask from others. Sort of like we put on makeup, painting ourselves into you want others to see you, rather than embracing what you were given.
Anyway, to my little story (and it does have a bearing on this review – so I beg a little patience). You see, last week I was caught up in the euphoria of Steve Grand‘s pre-release momentum for his debut album (of which I was a Kickstarter supporter). So I wanted to do my part. I wrote a track-by-track review and informed Steve I was going to post it. He was generous and encouraged me to “go for it.” I got his blessing to use the tracks (as sound clips – not the full tracks) so people could get a sampling of the album that so many supporters and fans have been waiting for. For me, and my humble blog site, it was rather heady – like a pre-pre-release party, albeit digitally.
It’s been a fairly rousing success for everyone involved. Steve loved the review and told me so. It got retweeted between Steve and others to about 80K Twitterites (my term for it). That was rather amazing. My stats went through the roof. So in a way it was a party of sorts – well, in my head if not physically.
So why am I telling you all of this? It’s quite simple really. But to answer that I want to ask you a question (and be honest in your reply – no one is really gonna know but you).
Have you ever had one of those moments when you’re caught up with something that is so enthralling or exciting and then someone – usually a stranger – taps you on the shoulder and in the midst of everything they whisper into your ear something that truly resets your emotive clock?
Yeah, well, that’s what happened to me …
It was in the height of that euphoria that Adam Ray, who I hadn’t been aware of (looking back I began to think: Jesus, what rock was I under?) before he sent me a simple tweet in the midst of all the tweets going to and fro in the Twitterverse.
It was simply this (my moment of Adam digitally whispering in my ear):
So to my question: have you ever had one of those moments?
… Because for me, this was one.
Things were swimming along with people checking out my review for All-American Boy so I thought: why not click it and check it out? Little did I know what I was about to experience.
This review hopes to capture how like Dorothy stepping from the sentimental sepia of Kansas into a kaleidoscope of Oz, Adam’s offering to me to sample his song “To and Fro” was a moment where everything in the party came to a stop. The rush of that emotive river, stilled by the plaintive strings and guitar that demanded my attention in the quietest of manners. By the end of the video, which shows a simple picture of Adam (from what I can tell) as a boy, the song poured out of my headphones and cleaved its way into my heart – I wasn’t merely hearing it, this was a consumption that went to my soul – it burnished its way there.
You see, Adam writes about what I write about: the journey of what it is to be a gay man and discover what that means for ourselves. To shed what society puts onto us to be one of them, not to define our own masculinity by what the accepted (if two-dimensional) norm is. Sadly, some of us don’t make it. To and Fro is about that. I went from giddy about All-American Boy to tears within the span of a little over four minutes. But since that song is toward the end of this album, I’ll save my full commentary on it when I get to that song in the track listing.
So, as with Steve’s review, I’ll give my final summation first:
BOTTOM LINE –
The Clown Parade isn’t a good album of songs. It just isn’t – and bear with me here – you see, what Mr. Ray has gifted us with (and I do mean GIFTED), is a schooling in how to be a modern day bard. This album isn’t good; it’s not even great. It is so damned superlative that, as a wordsmith, I’ve been wracking my brain to come up with a word that truly encapsulates how fucking brilliant the work truly is.
Monumental? Stellar? Right magnitude, but they’re so overused.
Stupendous? Astounding? So 1960s, don’t you think?
Fantastic, Incomparable, Virtuoso? – yeah, all easily applicable here, but still not on the mark.
Clown Parade is more of an emotive musical journal of a gay man’s journey – in this case Adam’s own. But really, so many gay men can relate to it on so many levels because there is so much here that I’ve learned over the years we all pretty much have in common. He presents songs that are soul shatteringly explosive and revealing (The Painter), all the while self-deprecating (Loaded Gun), often bordering at times on self-loathing (Battle). To a very great degree it’s what we, as gay men, are taught by those who are not one of us. But that’s not to say this is a downer album. Because it’s not. It may seem that at first blush, but like the Wizard of that grand emerald colored city, Adam has many layers to the curtain he’s now chosen to throw aside. What Clown Parade is I can tell you best using Mr. Ray’s own words from the song “Wendy“:
You were the light that made the shadows run and hide
You took the mirrors off my walls and made me look inside
It is this light that is prevalent (whether metaphorically or by calling it outright (as above)) that he shines defiantly at himself, and by extension he dares us to do so and challenges who we are and what life has dealt us and how well we may (or may not) have done with it all. All of this as his brilliant and well-crafted prose, like dousing us with turpentine, the colors of our lives running into a myriad of emotive paints, he dips his fingers into them and paints us in alternating pain-ridden hues, cracked with lost loves – abusive relationships both internal and external, and forces that put us at odds with ourselves. But as I say, this is not a downer of an album. Actually, it is quite liberating to let this album emotively wash over you and cleanse your soul. Every word may be from Adam’s own past, but damn it if they didn’t have direct correlations to my own. In this way it has an immediacy to it, a base truth, that as gay men, we pretty much all share. We can’t truly escape it. The mainstream heteronormative establishment works very hard, despite growing acceptance in equality, that we are still not part of the “real” club.
But that isn’t to say that the mainstream won’t get something from it as well. And they should.
Nashville, are you listening?
THIS MAN IS YOUR FUTURE.
BECAUSE HE’S SO REMINISCENT OF YOUR PAST.
Listen up to your roots coming back at you and take heed. Adam brings Country truly home by taking it to its historic roots. And I am not talking as we know it today. I am talking its real roots – those men from centuries ago who were true storytellers. Men who went from town to town to tell these musical stories. They were our form of social construct – morality tales, tales of strife and of overcoming obstacles. Sounds kinda like what Adam has here, if you ask me. Bards of ages old. Musical tales of the human condition.
The kind of Country music before patriotism and nationalism became a commodity. When being an American actually had some sincerity to it. Where it was about the story that was being woven before an audience that was the point of it all. In a very real way, it’s theater of the most popular kind. This is what Adam truly is, no matter what genre of music he uses, he is a storyteller first and foremost. His musical talents are undeniable, but it would be a gorgeous instrument with nothing to play were it not for his incredible deep-diving often revelatory compositions.
Yet, it is this very thread of truth, of self-discovery that is truly an awesome thing to move about you as you listen to these tracks. And while they may be a gay man’s tale, it is human to its core in ways that I have found sorely lacking in today’s musical “pre-fab” offerings – something Mr. Ray and I share. I used to think that I was just getting old, that music had moved beyond me. Instead, I see with brilliant men like Adam Ray and Jay Brannan (the only other person on my list who I consider a true bard), that it is the music industry that has lost its way. Indie is where it’s at.
That Adam does so from a Country format is really no surprise. As I said in Steve Grand’s review, while my own musical journey is from the world of Opera (as well as musical theatre), I grew up listening to and being exposed to musicians from all facets of the musical spectrum. Country was fully present in our house. I grew up listening to the greats of the past: Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn, Lynn Anderson, Freddie Fender, Glen Campbell to Hank Williams (Sr.), Patsy Cline and Skeeter Davis. I knew all of their songs and would join in whenever we were with my dad’s side of the family in upstate Washington, or in Wisconsin and one of my many uncles (Dad had 23 brothers and sisters) picked up a guitar and the country songs started to fly. So, like Adam, I get that. It’s in my blood too.
And as a sidebar, while I do listen and appreciate musicians from every genre, I have to say what keeps me rooted in Country music is that the male singers sound like men. I don’t know why that is. I don’t think it’s a gay thing; I don’t. It may be one of the reasons I navigated to the world of Opera – because I loved the sound of male voices. I’ll take a tenor (like myself), baritone or bass anytime over the ladies. Sorry, just the way I roll, I guess. Maybe that is a little gay, but I seem to favor the lower registers. Not to say I don’t love soaring vocal inflections that rise, like Superman, into the vocal stratosphere. Adam has that and they rise with such vocal clarity and emotive resonance that it rattles my own understanding of the world as I’ve come to know it musically. I appreciate dexterity when it’s done correctly. Adam has that naturally. These words and his vocals are my own heartstrings being played back to me, like he’d been watching me all of these years.
I am no fool; I know that isn’t remotely true. But I’d be hard-pressed to find a song where I can’t relate to it in some very direct way. This journal could be my own, my husband’s, or any one of my friends.
Adam is truly one of the most gifted singers (and songwriters) I’ve encountered that had me rooted in what he was all about from the moment he took his first breath in To and Fro. He had me; I was hooked. This is not merely a country offering either. Mr. Ray works in musical theater (he is currently touring with “The Book of Mormon” around the country – even stops by in my own neighborhood of San Francisco next month (April) – and after hearing this album, you bet your sweet ass, my butt will be in one of those seats cheering him on, even from a distance, in the dark, with the rest of the fans who came for the show) so his reach is broad and make no mistake, he is adept at it all. But for me, this album has cemented something more lasting: it is the words that he writes, the absolute truth he offers, with all of its flaws and imperfections that will have me clamoring for more. I dare you to listen to this and not find something in it for you. Words and music alone can’t always sway, but Adam’s vocal prowess is undeniable. It is meteoric and blazing – a much needed hug after a long hard day that will lift you up in that you will not feel quite so alone. For me, Clown Parade has already joined my very short Desert Island Discs list (music I couldn’t live without if I had to choose); it is simply that good.
Oh, and can I just mention A FUCKING STRING QUARTET nearly throughout the work! I had a musical orgasm over that one, I can tell you! Who does that any more? Class act, Mr. R. Just sayin’ …
So I don’t have an all-encapsulating word that applies. But I do have a word that I love that completely captures what I went through listening to this album: obtenebration. It is an archaic word but it means the absolute point of darkness before you see the light. Adam’s album is that light – piercing and radiant. His vocals rise and descend with such confidence that you can’t help but be caught up in the journey. The music is so gorgeously arranged and executed by the brilliant artisans Adam chose for the project. He told me in an early email exchange that it was the hardest thing he has ever worked on and one of the things he is most proud of in his life. There is no doubt about the quality and care that is burnished and lovingly presented in this offering. So while I can’t give you a word that truly says everything I love about this man and his works, I can give you that singular archaic word that describes where, even with all of my vast experiences over the half-centennial years of existence on this planet, this work adequately gave me personally, a real-life example of what obtenebration means.
And from the first note, it brought me light.
This is the type of voice my confused 16 year old self would’ve loved to have in my life. Warning me of emotive pitfalls, encouraging me that I am loved, that I do matter. That my journey is a shared one even if it doesn’t appear that way in my day-to-day travels. Gay men’s voices about their lives, about their accomplishments, their foibles, follies and incredible emotional highs. Men who live their lives courageously when the world at large tries to knock us down. You are one of those men, Adam. Far stronger and more brave than you know. Or maybe by now you do? I’d like to think so at any rate.
And just so we’re clear, Adam. You can tap my shoulder and let me know what you’re up to any old time. I’d be all the richer for it. I know that now, you’ve convinced me of such with this brilliant light that is The Clown Parade.
The track by track listing:
01 Intro –
Like a soft Copland-esque opener, this is Americana. It is a lovely and meandering musical roll across your mind, painting pictures of picturesque landscapes and broad vistas. I listened to it several times before Adam sent the lyrics to me for this review. There was something that kept gnawing at me about it though. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on that was so eerily familiar. Then the lyrics arrived and just before the words to Missouri (the first vocal track) were the words to the chorus of “Oh Shenandoah”. My husband laughed. He’s from the classical world as well (pianist who trained under George Szell of the Cleveland Orchestra) and he just said why didn’t I ask him because he caught the first few notes as they played from my speakers and though they weave the melody between alternating instruments the theme is there. He’s used to playing with melodies buried in compositions – even as trained as I am in it all, this one was so brilliantly arranged that I ended up smirking, thinking: well, fuck me. Score one for #TeamRay. This piece moves from the intro right into the first vocal track when you get to the word Missouri in the Shenandoah melody. A subtle, lovely and brilliant touch. Americana beautifully threaded in a work that only grows and expands on this with each track that follows.
02 Missouri –
The folly of youth and young love. This one definitely picks up the tempo from the somber opening. It is a tightly arranged and beautiful segue from the intro to give us the gift that is Adam’s vocal talent. His voice is warm and inviting, enticing us with its opening lines that anyone could identify with –
Do you remember/ that night under the stars
When love was innocent/ and forever didn’t seem so far
Laying there side by side/ in the dew covered grass
Holding each others hand and wondering if true love lasts
These are thoughts we’ve all entertained with a heady romantic encounter – even if we’ve never really distilled them into actual words. I personally love the way that the subject of this fleeting declarations of attraction are stilled by the knowledge that it was but a moment in time when they both needed some healing before moving on. It is the slight sentimental leaning to lamenting a road not pursued that makes this one golden. This story is left wanting … and that’s a good thing.
It is notable from the start that the title of this song is Battle and not War. The first denotes that it is one step, even if a backward one, that may be lost, but it is certainly not the war – why? Because obviously the singer is still around to tell us the tale. The war is not over. To my way of thinking, so you’ve lost a few battles? Hopefully, you’re a smarter warrior for it. What doesn’t kill us, and all that rot.
I’m not a good man, baby, I’m not a good man
I’m did my best, baby, I’m doin’ the best that I can
But it’s a battle putting out the fires within
I wrestle demons, baby, but they’re strong and they win
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After inquiring with Adam on the back-story of this piece, he told me that it has less to do with him directly and is more about family history. In a way I was heartened by this. Not because I require him to be the center of each piece, but because it speaks to the eagle-like vision he has over what intrigues him to write about – in this case, pain someone close to him went through, though not his own front and center journey. I love how he deftly imbues the pain of an abusive relationship and the devastation it can bring to anyone involved. It is something that has touched us or someone close to us so we all know the havoc it can cause – leaving everyone in pain and wallowing in self-doubt and denial. A brilliant cautionary and emotive tale. This is what a bard does best. Adam has it in spades.
05 My Love is the Best
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You drive me crazy and you push every single button
You pick a daisy and you wear it in your hair
You flirt with all the guys just to see if I’ll get jealous
I try and play it cool and say that I don’t really care
But you know that I do
And you love to watch me sweat
See you what you can put me through
And I’ll ace all your tests
Until the day you realize that, baby
My love is the best
Lover’s games. Nothing is sweeter, nothing more gratifying than the confidence between two committed people who are so confident in their love for one another that playfulness ensues, bringing a new round of desire to spark between them. This is decidedly where Adam takes a diversion into the playfulness life has to offer. The chant is infectious, and the vibe is gentle as a lover’s caress or a subtle nuzzle behind the ear. There are doubts on display within the context of the song, but hey, we all have them no matter how strong you think your relationship is – but the rewards are well worth any doubting demons who rear their ugly heads. Love for one another – yeah, that’s what’s best.
Another review compared this song to something that was alliterative to Sir Elton John’s classics (Daniel, for one, comes to mind). And certainly, I can see the similarity. But I counter with something I love more about this particular offering by Adam. This is a boy’s tune, regardless of your sexual orientation.
Men are taught in modern society that our emotions are not to be expressed. Somehow doing so is seen as womanly – which being the father and grandfather to two smart women I find utterly appalling as if that was something to be despised. I think this does my gender a great disservice. It promotes a disconnectedness to those around us and to the world at large. And that doesn’t mean we have to go soft either. So like Pan in this song, I think Wendy is an allusion to the loss of innocence, of not wanting to grow up, of hiding what we, as men, truly feel but aren’t permitted by society to express – fear, abandonment, resentment, rejection. Every boy is Pan.
Wendy, whether in fully personified form as a girl, or for us gay men, as a metaphorical manifestation of our connection to our emotive center, our willingness to be fragile, caring and empathetic, men are by and large being done a huge disservice in connecting as men to each other, irrespective of their sexual orientation, to being a father (should the situation arise), and certainly to women (misogyny is still alive – even amongst gay men (yeah, I said it)). Men need to heal as a gender. For me this was the take-away for this piece. What do you come up with?
Pssst! Here’s a hint: I pinged Adam about who “Wendy” was and I found I wasn’t far off the mark. See, he really is a bard. Message received: loud and clear.
And there’s so many songs I didn’t write for you
Before the storm before the fall before our tragedy in blue
Never knew how to be a man tried to stay a boy like peter pan
I flew away and hid my heart from you in never ever land
You tried so hard to understand
So, If you hear me now I hope that I’m not out of line
And If you have found someone to love I hope that he is kind, that’s fine
But if you look up and smile at the moon tonight
Then maybe singing this song for you was the first thing I’ve done right
This is your song
What the heart wants and what it needs aren’t always on the same page. Hurricane for me is about this. Those bad relationships that are all consuming but in it you realize what they burn most aside from passion, is a bit of your soul – a piece at a time.
Hurricane you broke me down again
Just when I thought I thought you were finally moving on
You kissed my lips and left a frown again
And like a storm you made a mess, and now you’re gone
But I’m the fool who stood out in your rain
Who found sick pleasure in your pain
We danced a circle ’round the drain
08 The Fall
Here Adam reaches a bit esoterically – and it is done to brilliant effect. The sparseness of the arrangement (both vocally and musically) gives you the utter devastation that warrants the mood of this biting piece.
You cut me but I supplied the sharpest blade
I gave you a ring but I pulled it from a hand grenade
You kept me safe inside barbed wire fences
I kept you warm but you got burned and left defenseless
In the fire
In the fire
09 The Painter
I truly loved this piece. That it was the first piece Adam wrote late one night/very early morning in the theater after a night of performing only speaks to the dedication he has to his craft that goes well beyond a simple paycheck (something else he and I share). It is also indicative of what sort of game Mr. Ray brings to the table – FULL-ON “A” GAME. It is clear from the prose of this work that it is the message that is driving Adam to push at our comfort zone and look at how we view our own intimate relationships. I’ve certainly been there in my past – though thankfully my 20 year (legal) relationship with my husband puts that squarely in the past. But yeah, this one brought it back home for me.
Find a crack in the wall of this castle we built
Drive a nail in and hang me to cover your guilt
You gave me a brush but said, “Paint in the lines”
And we’d paint in the dark hidden from smaller minds
Oh, but you were the painter and I was the muse
You were a hammer and I was a bruise
I’ll be your palate which colors you choose
A tragedy painted in blues
10 Loaded Gun
I drink too much and, baby, I’ve had some one night stands
I get lonely that I need someone to hold my hand
There’s a hole in my heart that nobody can fill
I keep on searching every bed, and every bottle, and pill
Loaded Gun is a fucked up mess of a song. Once you hear it you’ll know what I mean. It’s pretty straight up honky-tonk/juke joint material. Here Adam brings out all the vocal bag of tricks. He may be singing about how fucked up he is and where his fuckedupness has led him, but damn it all if it don’t have a catchy finesse to it that makes you wanna bounce in your seat or tap your hand on the steering wheel while you’re grooving to it. Sometimes being fucked up, or at least writing about it, can be a hot mess in a good way.
The subject matter is far darker than the tune lets on. There is some really fucked up shit going on in that song, bro.
11 A Single Word
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Roll me in sugar and wrap me up in shiny colored plastic
.99 cents gets you sweet cliche pump the bass lets really blast it
But can the truth ever set us free or is that word too fucking dirty
In these sterile rooms where dreams are manicured
You said listen up boy if you want you ever wanna be heard
But I don’t wanna change a single word
A broken music industry where you sell your soul to Satan himself to grant your every desire for success and fame. Seems slightly reminiscent of Damned Yankees – only that was about baseball, wasn’t it? Well, I think (and apparently so does Adam) that the pre-fab shit that is being marketed and sold as bona fide Country (or really any genre, let’s be honest) with auto-tune so prevalent that the youth of today have no idea what a real honest-to-God good singer truly sounds like. All that’s needed is the proper image and everything else can be fabricated to elevate the “dreamer” into superstar status.
Oh, and don’t offer up that “they have to perform live, though” – yeah see, auto-tune works in that arena too. And there are articles that point how rampant its use is within the industry. Talent is not nearly as required as a sexy look or a nice rack of tits to promote something to be sold. Hell, even Paris Hilton had a song out – so obviously anyone can do it. Thankfully, I get none of that from Adam’s work. There are subtle vocal inflections that are purely human in nature that would be a huge target for auto-tune to correct. Not because Adam sings off key; I wouldn’t imply that for a fucking second. No, because what it does is remove those rustic human qualities that give us that Stradivarius quality that makes Adam’s voice so distinctive from my own. Opera and Musical Theatre, if done traditionally, is predicated on its artisans being a good tunesmith and vocalist. Adam makes a very strong case for why that is needed now more than ever with this song.
Of course, the “fucking dirty” word in this case, is gay, how the construct of Country music as an industry won’t allow someone, no matter how talented or vociferous in his positive message of acceptance and inclusion, won’t invite his dreams to the dream machine factory. Sterile walls and beautifully manicured halls are, in fact, riddled with bigotry and exclusion. The plastic only covers the blackness that lies underneath a broken construct and the withering heart masking its dark exclusionary secret in patriotism and conservative values as if they are the true keepers of the dream.
Adam, you’re absolutely right about not changing a fucking single word.
12 To and Fro
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From Verse 3:
Small town USA
A tough break if you are gay
A little boy climbs
Up a big oak tree
Because the harder they pushed
The less he could fight
Tied a knot round his neck
Whispered “mama don’t cry”
And let go
the rope swings to and fro
Sometimes sticks and stones
They bury bones, they bury bones
And sometimes words alone
They bury bones
You told him he’s going to hell
You told him he’s wrong
You told him he’s going to hell
And now he’s gone
Small town USA
Home of the “free and brave”
Okay, time for the waterworks and nothing short of it. In Adam’s own words (from Broadway World):
One of the songs that is most precious to me, “To and Fro” was inspired by the stories of a couple of my cast members who grew up gay in an ultra-religious and unsupportive environment (even enduring religious therapy to “heal” them). We were in Kentucky at the time, and I read an article about yet another LGBT youth committing suicide because of bullying. I was bullied relentlessly growing up so the topic is one I feel extremely passionate about. I remember I was so angry and sad I was literally shaking when I wrote it.
Yeah, I am with Adam on this one, too. As an older gay man, I am all about protecting our queer youth. I can’t imagine being thrown out by the family you were born into. Those type of people confound me. So fucking selfish beyond all measure. So many of our queer youth are in absolute danger and I feel so helpless when all I want to do is find some way for them to be all right and know someone cares about what will happen to them. I was lucky in that even back in the 70s and 80s when I was growing up, I had incredibly supportive and loving parents who loved me no matter what. I didn’t have to live through that hell. But you can bet your sweet ass I was ever so thankful I had who I had as parents. I never took it for granted. I knew I was one of the lucky ones. But it didn’t mean I didn’t live through the horrors of it with my friends in the gay community as I grew up. I saw it with my own eyes.
13 The Clown Parade
While I could wax poetic myself on this one what I will say before I leave you with Adam’s words on it, is that while I’ve reached a point in my life where I don’t paint things to make people happy or comfortable being around me – you see what you get, case closed, move along if there’s nothing to see – then now I have a theme song for it. This song begs you to root for those of us who have to deal with image issues. And yeah, even the people who appear beautiful on the outside can have some pretty ugly demons going on inside – book by its cover and all that, you know?
What do you want them to take away from The Clown Parade?
You are enough. Your “imperfections” or “mistakes” make you beautiful. Don’t EVER paint yourself a clown just to march in their parade. Don’t ever subscribe to the damaging and regressive definitions of ‘normalcy’ and beauty that are widely accepted in this world. I marched for years in circles and found myself nearly 30 staring at a stranger in the mirror. Music gave me the courage to wash off my ridiculous make-up. I made a decision to trust my heart and discovered that truth will only set us free…if we face it head on. I just hope my journey can inspire people to simply be themselves and go for their dreams. Don’t limit yourself. Men don’t have to be tough and buff and strong. Women aren’t catty, weak, objects of desire. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the toughness and strength of intelligent women like my Mom, and I wouldn’t write they way I do if I didn’t have father who was sensitive and supportive. An LGBT individual can be a country music artist, a Christian, a mother/father, a role-model…anything he/she wants to be. The parade is over. Let’s march to the beat of our own drums.
The Clown Parade is about that. It is a song worthy of its own musical.
Actually Adam, I was thinking that a book needs to be written to go along with your score. It’d make one helluva musical, don’tcha think?
Hmmm … (tapping finger to chin)
Until Next Time …
Musician and Engineering Team Credits
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